Combining the classic DASH hypertension diet with sodium reduction can significantly and quickly reduce biomarkers of cardiac damage, investigators have found.

The DASH diet prioritizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy foods. It has long been prescribed to help lower blood pressure and improve cardiometabolic risk factors, including cholesterol, blood sugar control and body weight. Lowering sodium intake while following the DASH diet can be even more effective for controlling hypertension.

Now, a newly published study has for the first time linked this DASH-low sodium dietary regimen to cardiovascular markers of heart strain, injury and inflammation, according to the researchers.

Study participants who consumed the DASH diet with reduced sodium within weeks had lowered two distinct mechanisms of cardiac damage — injury and strain, reported senior author Kenneth J. Mukamal, M.D., MPH, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston.  By itself, the DASH diet reduced cardiovascular inflammation, he reported.

Widespread adoption needed

The new findings have prompted fellow physicians to argue for a renewed focus on encouraging widespread adoption of the DASH-low sodium diet in the United States.

Image of Neha J. Pagidipati, M.D.
Neha J. Pagidipati, M.D.

“These data indicate, for the first time, that the combination of the DASH diet and sodium reduction directly affects the heart in two distinct ways: through decreased myocardial injury and decreased cardiac strain,” wrote Neha J. Pagidipati, M.D., and Laura P. Svetkey, M.D., in an editorial accompanying the study. “Evidence of impact on cardiac injury and strain are important because of their known strong correlation with cardiovascular events,” they explained. 

Clinicians have a role to play in bringing moving the DASH-low sodium diet from the research world into the real world, declared Pagidipati and Svetkey, who were not involved in the study. Despite evidence and guideline recommendations from public health officials, uptake in the United States remains “woefully” low, they wrote.

“We need to approach the adoption of the DASH-low sodium diet in diverse communities with the same scientific rigor and intensity that we have used to understand its biological benefits,” they concluded.

The study and accompanying editorial were published this month in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.